Car production stopped in February of 1942 for the all-out war effort of WWII. The car manufacturers converted their plants over to build tanks, trucks, ships and planes, and the latter would have a significant influence on GM's new post-war designs. The newly-designed cars of 1941 would return for several years after the war ended in 1945. There was no time to produce new styles--in fact, it was all the manufacturers could do to try and keep up with the high demand for cars from the public. There was a union strike at GM in November of '45, followed by steel and material shortages, further complicating the push to get new cars to eager buyers. GM's chief executive, Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., announced a $500 million program for a reconversion from military to civilian production and an expansion program.
Over at GM's Art and Colour design studios, headed by Harley Earl, new designs had been created, including gun sight hood ornaments, ventaports (port holes), fish tails, curved windshields, and other exciting innovations that would have to wait, but by 1948, General Motors was ready to introduce several of these new creations. The '48 Cadillacs had an all-new sleek body design featuring fish tail rear fenders. These would evolve into tail fins by the late '50s. Olds also released a new body for '48 on its "98" series with the new leaner, longer GM look. Most other manufacturers held back with new designs for one more year, with the exception of Hudson's "Stepdown" design and Studebaker's pre-bullet-nose body.
By 1949, the public's interest was at an all-time high for new cars, and the post-war economic boom made it possible to buy them. To introduce the new 1949 lineup for GM, a special exposition was held at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, January 20-27, 1949. It was called "Transportation Unlimited" and featured car and truck exhibits as well as special ones for their buses, diesel locomotives and household appliances. There were also demonstrations showing how the new Hydramatic and Dynaflow automatic transmissions worked.
In this article we will focus the spotlight on the featured automobiles of this exhibition.
CHEVROLET, long the leader in the low-priced field, featured two Body by Fisher styles: the fastback Fleetline and the notchback Styleline, with 14 new models including the Special and the DeLuxe. Some of the changes for '49 were the longer, lower, wider, roomier bodies with more greenhouse area. Automatics and 235s were still a year away, so in 1949, Chevys were equipped with the dependable 216 and a manual 3-speed transmission. A convertible was offered in '49, as well as a station wagon which started out as a wood wagon, but was replaced by a steel body by mid-year.
PONTIACS were longer and lower, and offered what GM called "Vision-Aire", an enlarged glass area with curved, two-piece windshield. The two lines were the fastback Chieftain and the notchback Streamliner, with 10 new body styles and an all-new steel station wagon and sedan delivery. All Pontiacs had "Travelux" ride, with "Nu-Cushion" springing, sealed airplane-type shocks and low-pressure tires on broader rims. Engines were L-head 6 or 8 cylinders. Hydramatic drive was available on all models.
OLDSMOBILE featured "Futuramic" styling with wide bodies, big, curved, two-piece windshield, and a new Rocket 135 hp V-8 engine that had 23% more horsepower than the 1948 8 cylinder hydramatic. Styles included the 4-door Sedan, Club Sedan, Coupe, Convertible, Town Sedan, Station Wagon and the Holiday Coupe in the 98 series.
BUICK had an all-new lower, longer-looking style with flowing, full-length fenders, Venti-ports (portholes: 4 for the Roadmaster and 3 for the Super--the Special retained the 1948 styling), 22% more glass area in the Sedans, and a choice of models in the Roadmaster and Super, including Sedans, Sedanet (fastback), all-new Riviera hard top in the Roadmaster Series only, and a woody Station Wagon. Harley Earl's team finally got their gun sight hood ornament, port holes, and sweep spear side trim that would arrive in mid-1949 production.
CADILLAC'S big news for 1949 was the all-new 331 V-8 OHV engine. At 160 horsepower, it was one of the best in the industry, and would continue with minor modification through 1955. The Hydramatic was the transmission of choice, and the new Coupe deVille was the hit of the season. There were three Series available: 60 Special, 61, 62 Series and the 75 Sedan and Limousine. The 75 series retained the '48 body style, but had the new OHV V-8.
What a great show that must have been! GM's new lineup for 1949 at the Waldorf! These cars would go on to transport families across the country on the soon-to-be-built Interstate Highway system built in the 1950s, and helped to set the standard for design and engineering excellence for years to follow. We're fortunate to have them still with us today! Keep 'em driving!